Venison Tacos

Couldn’t put a “Weird Crap I Cook” title on this one.  It came out too delicious.

Part of the load of venison we received was a few pounds of ground venison.  I wanted to make some unorthodox tacos and involve some new flavors that I thought would bring out the flavor of the meat.  I also felt like nearly burning out the motor on my Cuisinart mini-prep and driving Kristi insane with it’s high-pitched scream.  First item prepared was a mushroom paste that I planned on smearing on the tortillas prior to loading them with meat and the other toppings.  For flavor, the paste started with garlic and onions.

To get these down to a nice consistency you have to alternate the motions of the blade a few times. Hence the motor burning and the high pitched sounds

Once chopped, these went into a pan with some olive oil.

This is also the way my fried rice starts, but I had to stop making that after it became a mild addiction and I started to consider cutting a new hole in my belt

While those sauteed for a few minutes, I mini-prepped about a pound of white and brown mushrooms.

As I'm sure you've figured out by now, Kristi and I love mushrooms and use them in almost everything we cook

When they are ground up in a Cusinart, you recognize how little substance there is to mushrooms.  A pound of them were reduced in size to a couple large spoonfuls that went into the pan with the onions, garlic, and a little marsala wine.

The first real food I learned how to cook was chicken marsala from my mom's recipe. I quickly learned that marsala wine and mushrooms go great together

On the back burner, I sauteed a chopped onion in a little bit of olive oil.  Once the onion had caramelized a little bit, I added a can of rinsed beans, chicken stock, red pepper and salt to simmer for a little bit.  This was the start of the beans and rice that would be a side dish.

Kristi and I are also big fans of beans and rice

At this point the mushroom paste had cooked for a while and had a thicker consistency so it was removed and put into a bowl.

Great smells coming out of this bowl

Out came a pound of the fresh ground venison meat.

I say "fresh" because most of the meat came frozen but this was recently butchered and came refrigerated

I cooked the meat with a little butter in a pan with paprika, garlic powder, cayenne, red pepper, chili powder, and salt.

Looks like ground beef, but the texture and flavor are very different

While the meat cooked, I started an aioli based on the delicious one Conor made a few weeks prior in Boston.  A little mayo, olive oil, lime juice, the leaves from a bundle of cilantro, three garlic cloves, and black pepper.

Best part of my Philly produce market is that all herbs are sold in slightly smaller batches than usual for $1

The garlic, cliantro and lime flavors were very strong, but thats what you want when you're only using a little bit on each taco

Instead of garnishing with lettuce and tomato, which would be a little boring and not compliment the flavors well, the fresh garnish of choice was baby arugala.  I don’t use arugala enough, but every time it shows up in a meal it is completely delicious.  In Jamaica Plain, Kristi and my favorite meal to split is an arugala salad (dressed with lemon juice and cracked pepper) and a prosciutto pizza covered with arugala at Bela Luna.

Back to the tacos, here’s the toppings bar:

I despise the way flash photograph makes food look, but thats whats necessary in our apartment with all of its stupid environmentally friendly mini flourescent light bulbs

When the meat was almost fully cooked I added a splash of V-8 to give some tomato flavor to the meat since salsa wouldn’t compliment the other garnishes well.

I had never cooked with tomato juice before but having some V-8 in the fridge led to inspiration

While the meat finished cooking and absorbed the V-8, a package of pre-cooked wild rice went into the bean, onion, and chicken stock mixture to simmer for a few minutes.

Little bit of a cajun dirty rice look to this, might have even splashed some V-8 in. Can't remember, I was going V-8 CRAZZZZYYY

Finally, a shot of the finished product.

This was a really amazing meal, I can't wait to do it again exactly the same

The finished tacos, with all of the flavors from the garnishes blending together in each bite, were truly awesome.  Ground venison is different from beef or turkey; not as greasy tasting as beef, not as rubbery as turkey.  It has an almost grainy texture, in the best possible way, with all of the uniquely rich flavor of venison.  A small smear of the mushroom paste on the tortilla gave the strong and earthy mushroom flavor I was looking for.  The arugala and aioli added the finishing touches of complimentary flavors, acidity, and a little fresh crunchiness.

Also, when you cook beans and rice together like this, the final product is very creamy, starchy and rich.  Almost like a mexican risotto.

And that was it.  Well, not really, I had two more tacos after the one shown and Kristi had to turn up the TV to drown out the noises I was making as I ate round two.

Not sure what I’ll be making next week, might head to the Italian Market tomorrow to get something interesting to cook.  Also, if you haven’t donated to my Movember mustache growing, please click here and support prostate cancer research.  I’d appreciate it.

Weird Crap I Cook: Venison Pizza

Prior to meeting Kristi, I had only eaten venison a few times in my life but enjoyed it every time.  Kristi’s extended family lives in Vermont and they are active hunters during deer season which has led to a lot more venison meals for me in recent years.  My favorite was last year when I visited the family deer camp for a great meal, some beers, and cards.  Although I was relegated to observer status, a fresh leg of venison was butchered, sauteed in butter with onions and served with potatoes.  Simple and delicious.

I’ve wanted to experiment with cooking venison on my own but it’s always overpriced, if you can find it, and I generally lack the man skills required to get my own through hunting.  However, my brother John recently allowed an acquaintance to hunt on his property which led to a windfall of deer meat.  I picked up about 10-15 pounds of a variety of cuts this past weekend and immediately started imagining new ways to use it.  You’re likely to see a fair amount of venison dishes on this blog in the next few months.

Up first, a pizza (in annoying restaurant terms, a flatbread) that would incorporate the flavors from the meal at deer camp and add a few elements.

When I went to load the venison meat into the freezer, I noticed that we still hadn’t used a package of sliced leg meat that Net (Kristi’s grandmother) gave us a few months ago.  Decided to use that first.

Deer meat gets very dark on the outside when frozen but is a shade of bright purple on the inside when raw

Venison is very lean and almost completely devoid of intramuscular fat.  Hence the need to quickly cook in butter or oil to avoid the meat becoming too chewy.  The other key ingredients for this pizza were onion, garlic, potatoes, and mushrooms.

The obligatory ingredient shot. I know these are a little unnecessary but more photos make the post seem more substantial

The potatoes were quartered and went into a pot of boiling water with the chopped garlic and a good amount of salt.  The mushrooms were also sliced, thrown into a hot pan and cooked until they browned a bit on one side.  I then added a healthy pour of red wine.

I love doing this with mushrooms. They suck up the red wine flavor and compliment meat so well

My thought was that the rich meaty flavor of venison would go well with some of the flavors that come from cooking with red wine.  When the mushrooms were done, a fresh skillet went on the burner with some olive oil and a chopped onion.

Not sure if I've mentioned this before, but I despised onions in all forms until I was in my 20s. Now, I rarely cook without them. I used to think they tasted and smelled like B.O. Not sure if my newfound love is related to me wearing deoderant more regularly

While those were cooking, the potatoes and garlic were strained and put into a bowl with milk, Brummel & Brown spread, salt and pepper to be mashed.  I mashed, stirred, and repeated a few times.  I was looking for a very smooth and creamy texture.

Look, if you're not mashing your potatoes with the skin on, you really don't know what you're missing. Thats where the flavor is! Plus, it's more pleasing to the eye than the bleached-white mashed you expect from a cafeteria

Once the onions had picked up a little caramelized brown color and turned translucent, I hit them with a splash of red wine as well.

Still a little crunchy, but will be fully cooked once the pizza is done baking

The onions were removed from the pan and a tablespoon of butter went in.  This was a trick learned from deer camp; the onion juices are pulled from the pan by the butter and flavor the venison.  The slices went into the hot butter for a minute or so on each side.

Not trying to sound like I know what I'm talking about, but you can tell you're cooking game meat at this point. The smell isn't as sterile and bland as beef, pork and chicken; its got a stronger but appetizing aroma

Once cooked, I let the meat rest and sliced it into the bite sized portions you would want on a pizza.

I was hoping to cook it rare but its tough with thin strips like this. Also, want to know why I am always holding the food when I take a picture in my apartment? Because there is no effing light! Everything looks yellow and awful if I don't hold it up under the hood

Earlier in the day, I hit up Randazzos for some raw dough.  It’s a local subpar pizza shop that ruins delicious crust with awful sauce and toppings.

$3. I know it's just water, yeast and flour but it's totally worth it

Did the usual, stretchcd it out by hand and placed it on a greased cookie sheet.  First layer to go on was a thin spreading of the mashed skin-on potatoes and garlic.

I know that it doesn't sound right, but if you've ever enjoyed white pizza it should look right to you. Also, see that yellow tint I was complaining about?

Next layer consisted of the red wine flavored onions and mushrooms as well as the venison.

I've done it a few times, but it always feels weird making a pizza without cheese. Makes you want to call it a flatbread. But I associate that term with the Alchemist in JP and every other crappy bar/restaurant that claims its garbage bar food is American "gastro pub" fare

While the oven preheated to 450°, I added a bunch of dollops of mashed potato to the top of the pizza; similar to the blobs of ricotta that dot a well-made white pizza.  The crust was brushed with olive oil, garlic powder, and salt, a surefire way to make the crust of any pizza delicious.

A 450 degree oven in a small apartment leads to me sweating and Kristi shedding one of the fifteen blankets she is generally covered with

10-12 minutes later, the crust is golden brown and the tops of the potato blobs have browned a bit too.  Time to come out.

I know I say this a lot: I don't make pretty food, but you knew this would be delicious once you saw it come out of the oven

Slice it up and we were ready to eat.

I forgot how I used to slice my rectangular pizzas when cutting this one. It needs two horizontal slices instead of one. Write that down

The venison was a little chewier than I would hope, too long in the freezer and cooking it twice hurt it.  However, the flavors from the onions and mushrooms combined with slightly irony meat and creamy potatoes on a crispy crust was a very enjoyable combination.  Had the rich flavors I remembered and the ones I wanted to add.

Next week has a few possibilities, now I need to get back to focusing on my mustache fundraising.  For those who don’t know, I am growing a mustache during the month of November as part of the Movember charity that helps raise money for prostate cancer research.  A brief overview of my mustache experience can be found here and here’s the link to my donation page.  Thanks again for the support!